Southern Utah's men's basketball team wraps up the 2012-13 regular season this weekend when the Thunderbirds travel to Greeley, Colo. and Grand Forks, N.D. for games against Northern Colorado and North Dakota.
Hanging in the balance is a trip to the Big Sky post-season tournament as the Thunderbirds are currently locked in a four-way tie for fifth place in the conference, a half-game behind Northern Colorado, which wraps up its season Thursday night against the Thunderbirds.
Southern Utah (11-17/8-10 Big Sky), which lost to league-leading Montana in overtime on Monday (86-74) is currently tied with Sacramento State, Montana State and Northern Arizona in fifth place at 8-10. Those four teams and Northern Colorado (9-10, 11-17 overall) are vying for the four available tournament bids, as Montana (17-1), Weber State (16-2) and North Dakota (11-8) have all clinched berths. The tourney begins March 14 at the regular-season champion's arena. Montana currently has a one-game lead on Weber State with two games to play.
Sacramento State and Northern Arizona both travel to Montana and Montana State this week, while Eastern Washington (6-12), which still has an outside shot at a bid, is on the road at Idaho State and Weber State.
North Dakota (14-15/11-8 Big Sky) plays just the game against SUU this week.
The Games: Thursday - Southern Utah (11-16/8-9) at Northern Colorado (11-17/9-10), 7:05 p.m. (MST) at Butler-Hancock Pavilion (2,992), Greeley, Colo. Saturday - Southern Utah at North Dakota, 2:05 p.m. (CST), at Englestead Sioux Center (3,064), Grand Forks, N.D.
The Series: Thursday's game will be the second between the Thunderbirds and Bears as Big Sky opponents and the third meeting between the two programs overall. Northern Colorado came out on top of the first test, a 73-51 win at Hawai'i in the 2009 Outrigger Rainbow Classic, while SUU pulled out a 51-50 win earlier this season in Cedar City. Saturday's game at UND will be just the second game between the two programs. SUU came out on top of the first meeting - the first Big Sky men's basketball game for either school - by a 79-67 count in December.
TV: There will be no live television coverage available in Utah for either game.
Radio: All of Southern Utah men's basketball games are broadcast live by KSUU (91.1 FM). Art Challis is in his 40th season as the Thunderbirds' basketball play-by-play voice. Dr. Challis - chair of SUU's Department of Communication - is joined on home and selected road broadcasts by former SUU standout and current SUU VP for University Relations Dean O'Driscoll.
On The Internet: Video web-streaming coverage of all of Southern Utah's home games and Big Sky road games is available on Big Sky TV, at www.bigskytv.org. Audio of all SUU games is available by logging on to the Thunderbird website at www.suutbirds.com or at www.power91radio.com.
Video Highlights: Video highlights of the Thunderbirds' home games are available to accredited media outlets via SUU's FTP site. For information on obtaining those highlights contact SUU Director of Athletic Media Relations Neil Gardner.
Coming Up: The Big Sky Conference tournament begins March 14 at either Montana or Weber State, depending on which team claims the regular-season title.
BSC Player of the Week: Damon Heuir earned his second Big Sky Conference Player of the Week award following his play in the Thunderbirds' home wins over Sacramento State and Northern Arizona. Heuir averaged 27.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in the two wins. He scored 28 points with seven rebounds, seven assists and a steal in the team's 79-67 win over Sacramento State, then scored 27 points with four rebounds, an assist and a steal two nights later against the Lumberjacks. Heuir's first BSC Player of the Week award came after he scored 30 points to lead SUU to its first road win of the season, a 90-77 victory at Northern Arizona on Jan. 5. That week he shared the honors with Weber State's Scott Bamforth.
Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005) is 11-17 in his first season at SUU and his first season as a head coach. Coach Robinson came to Southern Utah from LSU, where he spent three seasons on the staff. Prior to his time at LSU Robinson spent a season at William Jewell College and two seasons on the staff at his alma mater, Stanford. During his time as an assistant coach, Robinson helped guide his teams to a combined record of 87-47 and four post-season appearances, including two NCAA, one NIT and one NAIA Division I national tournaments. Robinson is 1-0 vs. both Northern Colorado and North Dakota.
Northern Colorado is coached by B.J. Hill (Grand View, 1996). Coach Hill is 41-47 in his third season at the helm of the Bear program and his third season overall as a head coach. Hill is 0-1 vs. the Thunderbirds.
North Dakota is coached by Brian Jones (Northern Iowa, 1984). Jones is 102-113 in his seventh season at UND and his seventh as a head coach. He is 0-1 vs. SUU.
Affiliations: Southern Utah is in its first season as a member of the Big Sky Conference. All of SUU's sports except gymnastics and men's golf compete in the Big Sky. Gymnastics is an affiliate member of the WAC while men's golf competes in the American Sky Conference. UNC and UND are both members of the Big Sky.
The Schedule: The Thunderbirds have played 10 non-conference games, four at home, four true road contests, and two neutral court match-ups. They have played eight conference games at home and eight on the road. SUU opened at #21 Gonzaga, then played three games in three days at the World Vision Classic, meeting Green Bay, Cal State Fullerton and host Nevada before opening its home schedule against Carroll College. SUU also played non-conference games at TCU, at Denver, and at home against San Diego Christian, San Diego and Cal State Northridge.
Last Time Out: Damon Heuir scored 29 points and Jackson Stevenett added 16 to make the most of their final game at the Centrum but the Thunderbirds came up short in overtime to league-leading Montana, 86-74. SUU held an early 9-2 edge but Montana battled to tie the game at 22-22 then used a 9-0 run to take a 37-32 lead at the break. Heuir had three 3-pointers in the first half to lead all scorers at halftime as both teams shot 50 percent from the floor to start the game. Heuir picked up where he left off early in the second period, but Montana stretched its lead back to seven before Heuir scored eight straight for the T-Birds to bring the margin down to 51-49 approaching the halfway-mark of the second period. SUU finally took a lead when A.J. Hess hit a three to give the 'Birds a 63-62 lead, then Stevenett hit a jumper in the key to push the advantage to three with less than two minutes remaining. After the teams exchanged baskets Gregory Jordan hit his only 3-pointer of the night to send the game into overtime. Montana scored 13 of its 19 points from the free throw line in the extra period, including the first three and the last 10, and extended a 76-71 lead in the final minute as SUU resorted to fouling in an attempt to get back in the game. Hess finished with 15 points and co-led SUU in rebounding (along with Stevenett) with a career-high seven boards. Stevenett also blocked three shots and had a pair of steals while Heuir co-led the team in assists (four) and steals (three) as well as pulling down six caroms. Chris Nsenki also had four assists, a personal-best.
T-Birds In The National Ranks: (Through Sunday) Heading into the week the Thunderbirds had two players ranked in three categories in the NCAA's top-100, and the team ranked among the top 100 in three categories as well. After hitting all six of his free throw attempts vs. Cal State Northridge and 4-of-4 vs. Montana State Jackson Stevenett moved from 14th to sixth in free throw percentage at .892. Stevenett also ranked 49th in scoring (17.9 ppg) while Jayson Cheesman ranked 46th in blocks per game with an average of 2.15. As a team the Thunderbirds were 24th in the country with 5.1 blocks per game, 50th in free throw percentage (.732) and 70th in rebounding margin (plus 3.8).
T-Birds In The Big Sky:
(Through Monday) Stevenett and Heuir are second and third in scoring in the conference when all games are considered. Stevenett is second in the league at 17.8 points per game while Heuir checks in at 16.4 ppg. Stevenett is also second in free throw percentage at .887, eighth in rebounding with 6.1 per game and offensive rebounds per game (2.1) and 10th in defensive rebounds per game (4.0). Heuir is fifth in 3-pointers per game (2.0), while Cheesman is third in blocks per game with 2.1, seventh in rebounding with 6.3 rpg and eighth in defensive rebounds with 4.6 per game. Cal Hanks is ninth in blocks per game with 1.1. The team leads the conference in offensive rebounds (12.1 rpg), and is second in blocks (5.1 per game), rebounding margin (plus 3.7) and defensive rebounds (25.5 rpg) and third in free throw percentage (.728).
When only conference games are considered, Stevenett ranks third in the Big Sky with 19.7 ppg while Heuir is fourth in the league with 17.3 ppg. Stevenett is also tied for first in minutes played (35.4 per game), second in free throw percentage (.876), sixth in offensive rebounds (2.3 rpg), ninth in overall rebounding (6.5 rpg), and 13th in blocks per game (0.9). Heuir is fifth in 3-pointers per game (2.2), seventh in free throw percentage (.830) and ninth in assists (3.4). Cheesman is fourth in blocks per game (1.9), seventh in rebounding (6.6 rpg) and eighth in defensive rebounds (4.8 rpg), while Hanks is sixth in blocks (1.2 bpg) and A.J. Hess is 10th in 3-point percentage (.421). The team leads the league in offensive rebounds (12.7 pg) and is second in defensive boards (25.3), 3-point field goal percentage defense (.319), rebounding margin (plus-2.7), and blocked shots per game (5.3) and ranks third in overall field goal percentage defense (.413).
Moving Up The Ranks:
Jackson Stevenett is one of just three T-Birds to currently rank among SUU's career top-10 in both scoring and rebounding. With 16 points against Montana Stevenett now has 1,226 points in his three-plus seasons as a Thunderbird, good for sixth on SUU's career scoring sheet. He passed a pair of former Thunderbirds on the list last week: current Montana assistant Kerry Rupp, who tallied 1,198 points from 1975 to 1977, and former teammate Davis Baker who finished his career (2007-10) with 1,205 points. Next up is Robert "Dunn" Lee, who scored 1,249 points from 1974 to 1977. Stevenett also has 482 career rebounds, which ranks 10th all time at SUU. He needs 11 to pass Dana Achtzehn (1990-92) for ninth place on the list and 17 to pass Lew Christensen (1965-69) for eighth. The only other two players currently in the top-10 in both scoring and rebound are Richard Barton and Lee. Barton is second on SUU's career scoring list with 1,419 points and fourth on its rebounding list with 557 while Lee is second in rebounding with 652 boards and fifth in scoring with 652 points. Barton played in 1986-87 then returned to the team after an LDS church mission to play the 1990-93 seasons.
Jayson Cheesman has blocked 58 shots this season, which is third on SUU's single-season list and sixth on the career list. He needs two to tie Sean Allen's 60 in 1994-95 for second place and six to tie Matt Hodgson (2009-10) atop the single-season list. He needs two to move past Kerry Sherwood (1989-91), who is in fifth place on the career list with 59.
With seven blocks vs. Montana State the team set a school record with 139 rejections in a season, passing the 135 the 2010-11 squad blocked. After blocking five more vs. Montana the tally now stands at 144.
Cleaning The Glass:
- The Thunderbirds have won the battle of the boards 18 times this season but they had not out-rebounded their opponent in five games until edging Montana, 35-34. SUU was out-rebounded in the first three games of the season, then won the battle of the boards in nine straight contests before Sacramento State had a 41-38 edge in the first meeting between the two teams and Weber State held a 46-41 advantage in the first meeting. SUU out-rebounded each subsequent opponent, a stretch of eight games, before Weber State pulled in 39 caroms to 33 for the 'Birds when the teams played in Ogden. Portland State had a 37-36 advantage, Eastern Washington also edged the 'Birds by one, 41-40, SUU and Northridge came out even 34-34, and Montana State had a 41-31 edge on the glass.
- SUU has reeled in 40 or more caroms 12 times this season. Last year's team had a total of four 40-rebound games.
- SUU pulled down a season-high 51 rebounds vs. San Diego Christian. The team's high mark vs. a Division I foe was 45, against Northern Colorado.
- As noted above, SUU's 144 blocks this season is a school record.
- SUU averages 5.1 blocks per game, which ranks second in the Big Sky. The Thunderbirds rejected 12 against North Dakota, SUU's highest total since the team combined for 13 against Panhandle State on Dec. 14, 2010. The Thunderbirds were in double-digits against San Diego as well, when they blocked 10 shots.
- Jayson Cheesman has had two five-block and one four-block games this season, with both five-block efforts coming on the road. Cheesman didn't take much time to break into the SUU record books. In his first game as a Thunderbird, at Gonzaga, he blocked five shots, which tied the sixth-highest single-game blocks total in SUU history. He swatted five more at Weber State last week. The four-block effort came at home against San Diego Christian.
- Cal Hanks tied Cheesman in sixth place on that single-game list when he came off the bench to block five shots against North Dakota. Hanks has 25 blocks so far and needs eight to move into SUU's single-season top-10.
- SUU has five or more blocks in a game 16 times this season.
- The Thunderbirds combined to go 10-of-17 from the free throw line against Montana, 58.8 percent, their worst performance from the line since they hit just 7-of-12 (.583) in the first meeting with Northern Colorado and their second-worst performance of the season.
- Montana shot an even 50 percent from the floor (26-52) on Monday night, becoming the first SUU opponent to hit 50 percent or better in the Centrum this season.
- Jackson Stevenett hit 4-of-4 free throws vs. Montana State. It was the eighth time this season he has been perfect from the line and the 15th time a Thunderbird has been perfect. He has hit 54-of-57 free throws over the last six games, including four perfect efforts (4-4 vs. MSU, 6-6 vs. Northridge, 7-7 at Idaho State and 9-9 at Portland State).
- The Thunderbirds were plagued early in the season by turnovers but have had more than 13 just once in the last 10 games, including a season-low nine at Weber State, until giving it up 14 times vs. Montana State. They were back down to 10 vs. Montana, however.
- Jayson Cheesman had pulled down seven or more rebounds in seven of the previous nine games - including nine, 10 and 11 in the three of the previous four - until corralling just three vs. Montana.
- Cheesman now has 178 rebounds this season and Jackson Stevenett has 164, marking the first time since the 2008-09 season that SUU has had two players with 150 or more rebounds. In '08-09 John Clifford pulled down 254 boards while Tyler Quinney finished with 155.
- A.J. Hess hit 7-of-14 shots, 5-of-10 from 3-point range, to finish with a career-high 24 points at Eastern Washington. He doubled his previous career scoring high, 12 at Idaho State, with the effort.
- SUU's 81-79 win at Idaho State was the team's first overtime game this season and thus Coach Nick Robinson's first win in overtime as a head coach. Both of the Thunderbird- Bengal games went down to the wire, with ISU winning 54-53 in Cedar City before SUU took the win in Pocatello.
- Chris Nsenki dished out a personal-high four assists vs. Montana and tied his career high with 10 points at ISU, including a perfect 3-for-3 night from 3-point range.
- Northern Arizona was probably happy to see the last of Heuir. The senior guard scored 30 points in the first match-up between SUU and NAU - the highest total in the Big Sky until NAU's Gabe Rogers poured in 35 vs. North Dakota on Jan. 26 - and he poured in another 27 last Saturday. In his two games against the Lumberjacks, Heuir hit 15-of-30 shots, 7-of-12 3-pointers and hit 20-of-24 free throws. He also averaged four rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals and blocked a shot against NAU.
- Stevenett has posted double-figures in 22 straight games, including 10 games during the streak with 20 or more points. Heuir had scored in double figures in 13 straight games until finishing with just three at Eastern Washington. He had tallied 14 or more points in each of the 12 and four 20-point-plus efforts during the streak. Either Stevenett or Heuir has led the team in scoring in all but one game this year.
- Stevenett notched his third double-double of the season vs. NAU with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
- Stevenett hit the 1,000 career points mark with 19 at Montana, which gave him exactly 1,000. He is just the 11th player in SUU history to break the 1,000 point mark and just the third to cross that threshold since Richard Barton finished his career with 1,419 points in 1993 (third on SUU's all-time list). Jeff Monaco finished his career in 2001 with 1,568 points (second) while Davis Baker finished his in 2010 with 1,205 (sixth at the time, now seventh).
- The Thunderbirds have had just five players foul out of the 10 non-conference games (including two at TCU) but have had 20 foul out of the 18 Big Sky games.
- SUU is now 9-0 all-time at home against Cal State Northridge after the BracketBuster win. In the team's brief BracketBuster life SUU went 1-1, with a loss at UC Riverside last year.
Scouting Northern Colorado: The Bears are 7-5 at home this season, including a 5-4 mark in Big Sky play but they have been playing well recently, winning five of their last seven games, including a road sweep of Eastern Washington and Portland State last week. Three Bears carry double-figure scoring averages, led by Tate Unruh (G, 6-4, 175, Jr) at 13.6 ppg and Derrick Barden (F, 6-5, 215, Jr) at 13.4 ppg. Tevin Svihovec (G, 6-2, 190, So) averages 12.0 ppg. Barden is the team's leading rebounder (and second in the BSC), with 9.0 boards per game, while Svihovec averages a team-high 3.3 assists per game. As a team the Bears average 71.2 points per game on 46.5 percent shooting (.387 threes) while allowing an average of 71.3 points on .455 shooting (.347 threes). Northern Colorado has knocked down 66.7 percent of its free throws and has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 33.9-to-32.5 caroms per game.
Scouting North Dakota: UND is 8-5 at home, 5-4 in Big Sky play this season. North Dakota has won three of its last four games, all on the road, and six of the last 10, with the losses coming at home to Weber State and Northern Arizona and on the road at Montana and at Omaha. Troy Huff (G/F, 6-5, 174, Jr), who missed the first game between the two schools, leads UND with 19.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while Aaron Anderson (G, 5-10, 150, Jr) averages 14.1 ppg. Jamal Webb (G, 6-1, 188, Jr) and Josh Schuler (G, 6-3, 184, Jr) are also close to double-figures, at 9.3 and 9.0 ppg, respectively. Webb averages 4.0 assists per game while Anderson has dished out 3.4 dimes per game. North Dakota averages 67.1 points per game on .422 overall shooting (.338 threes) while opponents have averaged 68.2 points on .438 shooting (.344 threes). North Dakota has converted 71.6 percent of its free throw opportunities and has been out-rebounded by an average of 35.5-to-33.6 caroms per game.